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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 04/03/06, 3.00pm
Derby County
Settling for a draw
By Andy Myall

I'd have really loved to start with a slightly rambling but pertinent story which mirrors Watford's current situation, but the simple fact is that I can't. What I can say is that the change in the club's fortunes has this season has meant settling for a draw is a much more attractive proposition to almost everyone in the Second Division. Not that it wasn't in past seasons to a lot of clubs who prefer to do their attacking football at home, but these past two games in particular have shown that settling for the status quo is preferable to any sort of risk. Thus for the second Saturday in a row, the Watford team was tasked with breaking down a stubborn opposition.

The starting 'Orns line-up showed one change, Demerit dropping to the bench in favour of Carlise, without any obvious reason. To start, Watford lined up with a five man midfield, Bouazza and Young flanking Mahon, Eagles and Spring.

The game started off brightly for the Hornets, with a couple of early shots, but none troubling Camp unduly in the Derby goal in front of the Vic Road end. Derby had some spells of passing too, although found themselves unable to beat the offside trap. The best of the opening chances fell to Ashley Young, who found himself through on the keeper, but Camp came out quickly to smother the shot right at the Watford winger's feet. King played the ball back into the area, but Young's flicked header drifted past the far post and out.

Suddenly Derby did break the offside trap, and Lisbie's run from the half way line saw him bearing down on Foster. It was okay though, as left back Stewart got back in front of the Derby forward to clear. Except, inexplicably, he didn't. Perhaps he felt by getting in between Lisbie and the ball he'd done enough, but he hadn't, and seemed to just fall out of the way to leave Lisbie with the relatively straight forward task of sliding the ball under Foster from about ten yards. The big keeper did get a touch though, but not enough to stop it bouncing agonisingly into the far corner of the goal. One-nil to Derby.

Watford's response was less than heroic. For the next ten minutes or so Vicarage Road watched a series of missed and over hit passes, as the Hornets struggled to create something to get back into the game.

When it did come, it was another moment of Marlon magic. A long free kick found King on the edge of the area, under close attention from his marker - not for the first or last time, attention that focused on trying to grab a Watford attacker's shirt - King controlled the ball, made his way from left to right across the edge of the 'D' and found the space to drill home a low and firm shot into the bottom corner.

Finally this galvanised Watford into much more positive action, and although unable to extend the lead the Golden Boys had the best of the ten minutes or so until half time. Bouazza had the best chance, scooping over on the turn from ten yards from a King cross just before the break.

Half-time saw Bouazza (later revealed to have suffered a foot injury) replaced by Al Bangura. He went on to have what was probably not his finest half in a Watford shirt, but it should be noted he managed to stay on his feet for almost the whole forty-five minutes.

Watford had the best of the early part of the first half and should really have taken the lead just before the hour mark. The ball fell to King in the penalty area, and he took a touch before shooting low and hard across the face of the goal, the Rookery was already celebrating when it cannoned off the inside of the post and out.

As the second half went on Derby turned their attention from attempting to counter attack when they could against a more dominant Watford side, to time wasting. Goalkeeper Camp was the most obvious culprit, on the receiving end from a fair amount of Rookery abuse for persisting in taking his goal kicks from the opposite side of the penalty area from where the ball had just gone out, and then hitting the ground after coming off second best from a firm but fair challenge from King for a crossed ball. Finally he did get booked. With ten minutes left, the Hornets' second change saw McNamee replace Eagles, who, along with Spring in the midfield, had a solid game, with both eager to attack in the second half. (The match programme insightfully revealed that Spring's first record was by someone called Della Soul - I've not heard of her, perhaps she's from Bedfordshire?)

Derby's soaking up of Watford's pressure looked to have paid off when they took the lead. Doyley, who otherwise had seemed very dependable, failed to clear a ball, and teenager Barnes notched his first goal for Derby, running through and beating Foster. Apoplexy from the travelling Derby support, and stunned silence from the rest of the ground.

Thankfully, though, Watford just increased the pressure, and shortly after an extra six minutes were announced Bangura collected a high ball on the edge of the area, took another touch and hit a sweet shot through a crowd of players in the penalty area and into the back of the net. Come on!

In truth, Watford deserved the win here, and this game has to be seen as two points dropped. Along with the two points nearly dropped last week we should hope that our team have learnt a lesson here. Too many teams in this division will set out not to concede, and Derby, as with Cardiff before them, almost managed it. Four goals in two home games is nothing to be ashamed of, but conceding three, given how few clear cut chances these opposing teams have had, probably needs to be improved upon.

As far as Watford's season looks from here on in, our remaining home matches to Millwall, Luton, Ipswich and Hull are all likely to have the same flavour to them. Performances in the same vein as the last two weeks should see us safely into a playoff berth (and let's stop for a moment and consider how many of us thought that even vaguely possible at the start of the season), but to challenge Sheffield Utd and Leeds for second place, we need another strong run of excellent performances.